Hiking the Italian Western Alps, Italy

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14650A, International


  • Day hike in Italian alpine mountains
  • Marvel at native wildflowers and wildlife
  • Explore quaint villages, mingle with locals, and experience Italian cuisine


  • Lodging with private bath in family-owned country inns
  • All meals and gratuities
  • On-trip transportation


DatesJun 29–Jul 9, 2014
StaffJohn Doidge

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Few places are as intriguing as Italy's Western Alps, which extend along the French border from southern Piedmont to the Mediterranean Sea. This area, which includes the Maritime and Cottian Alps, is relatively unknown to travelers -- foreign or native.

The Maritime Alps are not high by alpine standards, but the glacially sculpted peaks and lakes provide awe-inspiring scenery. To protect this area, Italy created the Maritime Alps Nature Park (Parco naturale delle Alpi Marittime) in 1995. This Park shares the French border for more than 20 miles with France's Mercantour National Park. These two parks joined forces to cooperate in management, cultural, and conservation work. Together, they share the ultimate aim of creating a single large international park: "Montagne senza frontiere" (Mountains Without Frontiers). The Maritime Alps Nature Park's wildlife includes chamois, ibex, eagles, and bearded vultures, and the park has more than 30 endemic botanic species and more than 2,600 botanic species -- almost half of the species living in the entire Italian peninsula.

The Cottian Alps, just north of the Maritime Alps, is a landscape of jagged peaks, clear alpine lakes, and mountain meadows. This is where Italy's longest and most important river, the Po, begins its journey to the Adriatic Sea -- it's a river whose source is protected by the Po Regional Park (Parco Regionale del Po). Towering over the Cottian Alps is Mount Viso, monarch of the Western Italian Alps, a majestic and isolated pyramid that, on a clear day, can be seen from almost the entire Piedmont region.

Warmed by the early summer sun, we'll explore this region's mountains and alpine meadows, view its wildflowers and fauna, and mingle with local people in their mountain villages. We'll stay in simple family-owned inns in two small villages, and explore the surrounding mountains on moderately paced day hikes. Traveling by van, we'll shuttle up narrow mountain roads to trailheads, hike in this inspiring scenery, and spend our evenings savoring the region's Italian cuisine and experiencing the charm of mountain villages and local people.

Note: many of the trails are uneven and rock-strewn with strong ascents and descents, contributing to a sense of full day hikes over relatively short distances.


Day 1: The trip begins and ends near Milan's Malpensa international airport, which is accessible via direct flights from the United States. We'll meet and have our get-acquainted dinner at a nearby family-owned hotel that provides free shuttle service to and from the airport.

Day 2: We travel from Milan to the village of Entracque and settle into our small family-owned inn. In the afternoon, we'll enter Italy's Maritime Alps Nature Park, where we'll familiarize ourselves with the region's wide array of flora by touring the Park's Valderia Botanical Gardens. We'll stay at this hotel a total of five nights and drive to trailheads to hike and explore Italy's Maritime Alps Nature Park.

Day 3: Our taxi-vans shuttle us to the small village of St.Anna di Valdieri, where we hike (2.5 miles; +600 ft) the cultural path of the Ecomuseum of the Segale (Rye). We'll pass through two hamlets that are no longer inhabited to see typical buildings of the area and learn about the traditional way of life and the important role rye played in the alpine culture.

Day 4: We drive through the Rovena Valley to Lago Rovena to hike (6 mi.; +1,600 ft.) to Refugio Genova, enjoying imposing views of the west face of Mt. Argentera, the highest mountain in the park, as we hike past Lakes Chiotas and Brocan to the refugio. After our refugio lunch, we'll hike back to our drop-off point and shuttle back to our hotel in Entracque.

Day 5: We are transported to our trailhead in the Maritime Alps Nature Park and hike (4 miles; +1,300 ft.) to the vast meadow of Piano de Valasco, with its views of the Maritime Alps and King Vittorio Emanuele II's hunting lodge.

Day 6: Today we hike (8 mi.; +3,000 ft.) to Lake Sella, where we will see marmots and possibly ibex and chamois. We’ll have lunch at the lake and then return to Entracque for our final day in this pastoral region.

Day 7: We leave Entracque and drive to Saluzzo, a 2,000+ year-old city. In Saluzzo, we have time to shop and explore the old section of the city and enjoy a special lunch. After lunch, we drive to the small hamlet of Crissolo, which is located in the Cottian Alps and in the shadow of majestic Mount Viso, Monarch of the Western Italian Alps. Using this hamlet as our second hiking base, we shuttle to trailheads to hike in the mountains around Mount Viso. We stay in a simple, family-owned inn and enjoy local dishes.

Day 8: Today we hike in the Pian del Re region, exploring one of many trail options, depending on our group's strength and preferences.

Day 9: On our final full day in the Western Alps, we are off to Pian del Re to 'discover' the source of the Po River -- Italy's longest and most important river that flows from here to the Adriatic Sea. We'll hike (5 mi.; +1,200 ft.) the picturesque "Giro dei Laghi," one of the most lovely itineraries in Po Cuneese Park.

Day 10: We leave Italy's Western Alps and travel to our hotel near the Milan Airport for our farewell dinner together.

Day 11: Filled with renewed spirits and the peace and joy of the mountains, we take the free hotel shuttle to Milan's Malpensa airport for flights home or travel connections.

While every attempt will be made to follow this itinerary, this trip is subject to change, depending on a variety of factors, including trail conditions and weather (e.g. a heavy snow year that blocks access to trails). Health and safety of participants is always the primary concern of the trip leaders.



Getting There

The trip begins at a hotel near Milan's Malpensa international airport, which is accessible via direct flights from the United States. The hotel provides free shuttle service to and from the airport. The trip ends at the same hotel, where we may take the free hotel shuttle to Milan's Malpensa airport for flights home or connecting elsewhere.

Participants are encouraged to arrive a day or two early to explore the Milan area and to acclimate to local time.

Accommodations and Food

Included in this trip is lodging in double-occupancy rooms with private bath, as well as meals, beginning with dinner on Sunday, June 30 and ending with breakfast on Wednesday, July 10.

Breakfasts are continental-style, which is consistent with the local custom and style of breakfasts.

Our picnic lunches typically include freshly baked bread, cheese, ham, fruit, and something sweet. Trip members are welcome to assist in shopping for our picnic lunches. Our refugio lunches are simple but tasty and typical of the region's cuisine.

Evening meals at our small hotels feature a limited, but savory, selection of Italian cuisine and traditional regional dishes. Vegetarians can be accommodated.

When we stay at simple inns in two villages, participants share rooms with private bath. Breakfasts and dinners are at the inns with picnic lunches provided en route.

Trip Difficulty

This outing is appropriate for adult Club members who are in reasonably good physical condition and have some recent hiking experience. This is not a mountaineering trip. Each hiking route has been carefully scouted and follows well-constructed trails.

A typical hiking day: With a 9 a.m. starting time, we are driven to the trailhead. The morning segment of the hike may take two to three hours and ascend to a destination point, where we spend an hour enjoying our picnic lunch. The afternoon walk is in reverse, from high to low, in about two-thirds of the time. By 4 p.m. we are back at the trailhead where the vans meet us, and by 4:30 p.m. we're at the inn. A typical hike, moderate by most definitions, will be about four to eight miles, with elevation change of 2,000-4,000 feet. Expect to be on the trail for four to seven hours on our hiking days. The Maritime Alps offer a leisurely but stimulating cultural and historical adventure. This trip is for adults only.

Equipment and Clothing

Suggested items to bring will be furnished to participants signing up for this trip. For the hikes, you need well-broken-in hiking boots, and a comfortable day pack to carry water, your share of the group picnic lunches, rain gear, and something to keep you warm should the weather turn cold unexpectedly.



  • Parco Nat. Alpi Marittime, No. 113, 1:25,000, Istituto Geografico Centrale (IGC).
  • Carta dei sentieri del Parco naturale delle Alpi Marittime, 1:25.000. Map of the paths in the park, with 33 recommended excursions on foot and by mountain bike, five traverses, and useful information about the park. Publisher: Blu Edizioni. Author: Parco delle Alpi.
  • Monviso, Carta dei Sentieri e dei Rifugi, No. 6, 1:50,000, Istituto Geografico Centrale (IGC).
  • Maps may be purchased for about eight euros in the towns we'll be visiting.


  • Carles, Emile, A Life of Her Own. Penguin Books. This autobiography describes turn-of-century peasant life in the region, and the transformation of a peasant woman born into a rigidly conservative patriarchal world of the high Alps.
  • Prevas, John, Hannibal Crosses the Alps: The Invasion of Italy and the Second Punic War. Perseus Books Group. The author focuses on one of Hannibal's most famous exploits -- the crossing of the Alps. Hannibal's actual route across the Alps has been lost to history, but Professor Prevas combines rigorous research of ancient sources with his own excursions through the icy peaks to bring to life this awesome trek, perhaps solving the centuries-old question of Hannibal's exact route and shedding fresh light on the cultures of Rome and Carthage along the way. John Prevas' conclusion is Hannibal crossed the Alps at the Colle de Travesette.


One of the benefits and unique aspects of Sierra Club Outings is our focus on the environment and conservation issues.

Our conservation agenda has three parts:

  • To gain a historical perspective of the Maritime Alps Nature Park and the Po Regional Park;
  • To observe and compare park administration practices with those found in the United States; and
  • To observe land stewardship practices in the mountain areas.



John Doidge, leader, has participated in, cooked for, and led trips in island locales, including Culebra, Vieques, St. John, St. Croix, Maui, Royale and Manhattan, and other remote corners of the western U.S. and Italy. Whenever he can, he is exploring: new languages and cultures, hiking, skiing, pedaling, or paddling. He believes that being present in the outdoors is the best way for us to connect our core values with love of the natural world.

Associate Leader:

Shlomo Waser

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